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EuroBasket 2017 | Group B Primer

Lithuania's Jonas Valanciunas, left, is congratulated by his teammate Mantas Kalnietis during the EuroBasket European Basketball Championship semifinal match between Serbia and Lithuania, at the Pierre Mauroy stadium in Lille, northern France, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. Lithuania won 67-64. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
AP Photo/Michel Euler

We’ve bided our time with summer league, the Big3, the Drew League and an insane NBA offseason. While we wait for the next season to get underway, we’ve been looking for stuff left and right to pass the seconds, minutes and hours. We had “Game of Thrones” for a few weeks, but that just ended. Now we’re left with the despair of getting through the first couple of weeks of September.

Luckily for the basketball nerd inside all of us, we have EuroBasket. This year’s EuroBasket is the 40th time this has all come together. Twenty-four countries, split into four groups, will compete in group play and then single-elimination playoffs to determine a European champion. You’ll see a lot of familiar faces and names. You’ll also see some of those highly mysterious draft-and-stash options, as well as future draft picks. This tournament is more than enough to get us to media day for the NBA and a truncated preseason schedule.

With roughly six weeks until the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, this will take up nearly half that time and get us primed for another campaign. Let’s take a look at the teams from Group B to get you prepped for EuroBasket 2017.

Ukraine

Whom should you recognize?

Nobody, really. We’re not getting the likes of Alex Len or Pooh Jeter or Oleksiy Pecherov or Kyrylo Fesenko this time around. Not even Ukrainian-born Joel Bolomboy will suit up for this country right now.

Whom should you learn?

This is a tough one as well. Artem Pustovyi is kind of a promising young player. He plays center for Obradoiro in the Spanish League. Pustovyi protects the rim pretty well and he can score around the basket effectively. But mostly, Pustovyi will need to be set up and Ukraine doesn’t have a wealth of playmaking talent. Now would be the time for these Ukrainian guards to have the games of their lives.

They have a shot at this thing/advancing?

They have to beat out Israel or Georgia (Republic, not the state) in order to advance to the tournament portion of EuroBasket. That won’t be easy but it’s very doable.

Israel

Whom should you recognize?

There are a few names who have flirted with the NBA over the years. Gal Mekel played briefly with the Dallas Mavericks in 2013-14, then was around for four games with New Orleans the next season. Lior Eliyahu has been a stashed international player since 2006 and Minnesota has owned his rights since 2012. He even played in an NBA Summer League with Houston in 2007. Yotam Halperin was selected in the second round of the 2003 draft by Seattle.

The main name you’ll recognize, though, is Golden State Warriors wing Omri Casspi. He should be the leader for this Israeli squad and they’ll rely on his experience and skill set to pull them through competitive moments.

Whom should you learn?

Shawn Dawson. His dad played in Israel for over 20 years, which is why the American-looking Dawson will probably catch your eye at first. Dawson was born and raised in Israel and has played professionally there since 2012. He won an Israeli League championship in 2016 and has been an important member of Maccabi Rishon LeZion up until this summer. Dawson went undrafted in 2015, but he can be a real factor in a lot of these competitions. Put him and Casspi on the wings and this team will have great versatility and athleticism:

They have a shot at this thing/advancing?

The issue for Israel is not having a lot of size. Their biggest players are about 6-foot-9, which doesn’t put them in a nice position against teams like Lithuania, Georgia, Italy or even Ukraine. They have some firepower and can leverage their perimeter play as an equalizer, but they aren’t going to go far — even past group play — if they can’t rebound.

Lithuania

Whom should you recognize?

Jonas Valanciunas is both the biggest name on this roster and the biggest player for Lithuania. He’ll lead a lot of their attack inside on both ends of the floor. That proves pretty crucial with how poor their guard depth has become over the years. Other names you’ll recognize, especially if you’re a huge fan of the 2016-17 New York Knicks bench unit, are Mindaugas Kuzminskas and the recently China-bound Donatas Motiejunas. Other veteran names are Mantas Kalnietis and Jonas Maciulis.

Whom should you learn?

Arturas Gudaitis. The Philadelphia 76ers drafted and stashed him in 2015. Gudaitis was then included in the infamous salary dump by the Sacramento Kings when they dealt Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry and Jason Thompson to Philadelphia. The 76ers relinquished Gudaitis at the request of Vlade Divac, who is supposedly a fan of his. The 76ers also negotiated the pick swap heard round the world in that same deal. Gudaitis still plays in the Lithuanian League and has become an effective post-up option. He just doesn’t do much away from the rim.

They have a shot at this thing/advancing?

Lithuania has long been a powerhouse in international play and this should be no different. Their biggest challenge in this group comes from Italy, but even then they have a great chance at emerging as the top team from Group B. Unfortunately for them, they haven’t had an heir to the throne of Sarunas Jasikevicius. He used to give Lithuania a great presence at the point guard position for a long time. They haven’t produced that next great point guard, but they have the size on the team to rule the interior and dominate the boards.

Georgia

Whom should you recognize?

Zaza Pachulia! The NBA champion still plays for his Georgian team and he’s by far the best player on the squad. Pachulia will be in a scoring role, which is much different from what we usually see him doing. His job typically involves leveling guards with screens, standing over Russell Westbrook, grabbing rebounds, and finding shooters with quick passes. His controversial/possibly dirty style of play will be a big risk if it shows up in EuroBasket. Georgia can’t afford to lose him in any game if it wants to advance past group play.

Whom should you learn?

Tornike Shengelia. NBA nerds will remember this name. He kicked around the NBA briefly, playing for the Brooklyn Nets and the Chicago Bulls. His biggest claim to fame at the NBA level was being traded for Marquis Teague in 2015. He was waived a couple of months after the trade, but Chicago still probably won that deal. That’s how bad Teague was at the NBA level. Shengelia is only 25 years old. He plays for Baskonia in the Spanish League and can really shoot the international 3-ball.

They have a shot at this thing/advancing?

It’s entirely possible that Pachulia tries to injure a bunch of players on opposing teams and it gives Georgia an advantage. They’ll need Israel and Ukraine to help them advance out of group play, but it’s not crazy to think they will make it to single elimination.

Italy

Whom should you recognize?

Marco Belinelli and Luigi Datome headline this Italian team. In the past, they’d be complementing Danilo Gallinari and Andrea Bargnani in international competition. This time, they’ll be asked to lead the team and be the biggest weapons Italy has to offer. Belinelli can play a very dangerous scorer in FIBA competitions. His outside shooting shows well at the NBA level and the closer line will give him more room to operate on the perimeter with his jumper. Datome can do just about everything. He’ll make plays for Italy. He can fill it up from behind the arc. These two can lead them out of group play, but that Bargnani-Gallo combo in the past is hard to replace.

Whom should you learn?

Nicolo Melli. He won’t make Italy forget Bargnani in any way, but Melli plays like a quality stretch big man nonetheless. The 26-year-old big man just signed with Fenerbahce this summer after previously playing in Germany. Melli can’t be left open on the perimeter and occasionally has the ability to turn hard closeouts into scoring opportunities. He was all-EuroLeague second team this past season. If Belinelli and Datome can find him for open jumpers, it’ll create plenty of driving space for them to attack the basket.

They have a shot at this thing/advancing?

It would take a complete disaster for Italy not to advance out of group play. They should be the second-strongest team in Group B. Fending off Germany shouldn’t be difficult for them. But they have to play interior defense and have to compete on the boards. If the 3-ball is falling, then they can be dangerous in the tournament format. They still miss that star power with Gallo not there.

Germany

Whom should you recognize?

Dennis Schroder. The Atlanta Hawks point guard will lead this Germany team as far as it can go. You’ll see him as much more of a scorer in this competition, similar to how Tony Parker flipped a switch when he played for France. But Schroder’s shot-making ability and jumper are far more questionable than what Parker can do. The key for Schroder is not losing sight of the team game for Germany. No Dirk Nowitzki means Schroder has to set the tone and keep that focus the entire time. He will be one of the best point guards in EuroBasket, but he has to prove that means something for Germany to become a real threat.

Whom should you learn?

Isaiah Hartenstein. While he’s been an intriguing prospect for a couple of years, Hartenstein still looks pretty raw on the court. Germany will need him to prove he can knock down jumper. Or score inside. Or be an elite rebounder. They’ll need him to play some very solid defense and not go through those young moments teams expect from 19-year-olds. Hartenstein has played for Zalgiris in the Lithuania League for a couple of years. That competition is solid, but it won’t prove to be nearly as intense as EuroBasket. The Houston Rockets took him in the second round of 2017. Can he look like the first-round prospect many hoped he’d be?

Houston Rockets' Isaiah Hartenstein, left, fouls Phoenix Suns' Darion Atkins during the second half of an NBA summer league basketball game, Monday, July 10, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

AP Photo/John Locher

Throw Daniel Theis in there as well. Theis just signed this summer with the Boston Celtics. He won three titles in the German League and won Defensive Player of the Year in 2017. But the German League competition ceiling only goes so high. Get him rolling to the basket and he can play dangerously. He’s great at scoring on cuts and in pick-and-roll opportunities. Ask him to make an outside jumper and it gets a little ugly.

They have a shot at this thing/advancing?

Germany should settle in as the third-best team in this group and find its way to the tournament. However, any slip-up from Schroder and this team gets into trouble. They need their top player to be flawless or Hartenstein has to end up doing too much for them.

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